Back when marketers and programming executives first realized there was power in bringing popular video game icons to television, an alliance between Nintendo of America, animation mainstay DiC, and broadcaster NBC wrought the first video game hero who was "one of us": Captain N. Teenager Kevin Keene finds himself pulled into Videoland after the Ultimate Warp Zone selects him as the best video gamer in the world. Now stuck in his favorite games, it's up to Kevin to lead the fight against the villainous Mother Brain (Metroid) and her cohorts King Hippo (Punch Out!!), Eggplant Wizard (Kid Icarus), and Dr. Wily (Mega Man) before they can destroy the Palace of Power and take over Videoland. Kevin's not alone, however. At his side are Princess Lana, Simon Belmont (Castlevania), Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and his dog Duke. With the help of a guest star or two the so-called N Team clashes against Mother Brain's forces time and time again. Now Shout! Factory has brought Captain N: The Game Master back on DVD for audiences to discover all over again. Does the nostalgia hold up to nearly twenty years of gaming progress?
Shout! Factory has done a fantastic job in creating this DVD set, but the sad fact is that the Captain N series itself hasn't aged well. It's great dopey fun, but the characters presented are very different from their gaming counterparts as to be almost unrecognizable. Mega Man is presented as a small little green man who tacks a "Mega!" onto most everything he says. Simon Belmont is a vain narcissist instead of a bold hero (although, from a cartoon point of view, that trait tends to work better for comic relief). Mother Brain is the break-out character of the series, surprisingly, as her distinctive voice is provided by Levi Stubbs (the same voice behind the carnivorous plant Audrey II in 1986's Little Shop of Horrors; in fact, I kept hoping for Mother Brain to break out with a verse of "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space", although that moment never came, unfortunately).
The stories of Captain N are typical 1980s cartoon plots grafted onto video game situations, although there are some bright spots. "The Most Dangerous Game Master" features Dr. Wily's latest robotic creation: an android designed to mimic Kevin's high school bully. Eventually the two settle their differences with a race through Castlevania to slay The Count. "Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain" sees Simon Belmont the victim of a love spell curse, and the object of his new affection is Mother Brain. Link and Princess Zelda even turn up in "Quest for the Potion of Power". Other memorable gaming characters to pop up during the show's run include Donkey Kong (presented as a villain here in his pre-Donkey Kong Country days), the Dragon Lord from Dragon Warrior, and even an actual Game Boy system. Then again, a number of now long-forgotten games are also represented, such as Bayou Billy, Puss 'n' Boots, and Faxanadu. The first twenty-six episodes of the series are included here. The remaining episodes that were originally paired with the Super Mario World cartoon back in 1991 are not a part of this set.
So there's the Captain N series, warts and all. Even if the series isn't as must-see as it was all those years ago, Shout! Factory has done an admirable job putting together the DVD set. I'm amazed that the series is even seeing the light of day on DVD considering how Nintendo management is now somewhat embarrassed by those old marketing decisions that gave rise to Captain N and the other Nintendo-based cartoons of the day. Special features are a bit on the trim side here, but there are a few things worth checking out. Character biographies feature information from the original Captain N writers bible, while the Exploring Videoland segments display some of the original concept art from the series. The original "Captain Nintendo" short story that allegedly "started it all" is also included, but isn't really worth a read. I'd love to see what Shout! Factory could produce if Nintendo and DiC had opened the archives and offered up every last scrap of information about the series. The DVD is certainly well produced and fans of the series from long ago will want to check this one out. Today's children who never knew the lure of the Eggplant Wizard may not be entertained by this one for long, however.
Die-hard fans of the series who apparently know a lot more about the production than I do have put together a list of things supposedly edited for the DVD release. I do not know how accurate these things are, but I felt it was worth mentioning.